MILLEDGEVILLE — The Milledgeville-Baldwin County Development Authority’s called Tuesday board meeting ended with a unanimous vote against moving from the Chamber of Commerce building to the City of Milledgeville-owned former Elks Lodge Building.
Development Authority Executive Director Matt Poyner remained neutral allowing the board to make the final call.
Lack of communication played a role in the decision. Since the city acquired the building adjacent to City Hall, the Development Authority board had hoped for input but members say they never had the chance.
The economic development group finally received floor plans last week.
“We didn’t hear anything back from them until it was nearly done. Suddenly, we were told ‘we are planning on you coming and not the Chamber’ because we thought the Chamber would also be in the building. We weren’t brought into the picture at any time as to what our needs were,” DA board chair Dr. Jo Ann Jones said Tuesday. “Somehow when we weren’t contacted about where we were going to be until after all the decisions were made, I felt a little bit like a stepchild.”
Elks is a three-floor building next to City Hall on Hancock Street tabbed as a future one-stop shop for economic development.
The original plan placed Milledgeville Main Street on the first floor, the Development Authority and a second city planner on the second and a third floor to house City Planning & Zoning.
Before the vote, the board discussed pros and cons for either staying put or switching locations.
Pros included being located in a new facility, more space, and Elks possibly becoming a future home for a consolidated Milledgeville-Baldwin County Planning & Zoning department.
Cons were loss of shared Development Authority and Chamber resource staff, the possibility of a city budget line item of $8,000 used for current yearly rent being withdrawn whether the move does or doesn’t occur, parking space and shared space restricting future Authority staff growth.
DA board treasurer Henry Pope worried traffic in and out of the location would compromise confidentially vital to development authority operations.
“We have visitors that want to arrive and depart without being noticed,” Pope said. “I think that confidentiality and visibility is at risk here for potential new industry leaders coming into town.”
Chamber CEO April Bragg weighed in Tuesday describing the working relationship with the DA.
Bragg wanted to strengthen the Community Strategic Plan already under development.
“(Poyner) has engaged us in the prospect visits. It has brought not only the credibility and reputation of the Chamber to the table, but it’s given us a lot more information so when we are speaking with our existing industries and members we are able to reinforce what the Development Authority does,” Bragg said. “This is a good partnership. We’ll do what it takes to keep you guys here. We are much stronger together.”
The Chamber CEO said upcoming technology and facility upgrades to the Chamber’s South Jefferson Street location would make the building better for all parties.
Combining joint city and Baldwin County Development Authority funding, the Chamber receives $16,000 worth of rent each year.
Jones said the Development Authority is strapped for advertising money.
Comparatively, Dublin’s economic development receives $300,000, while the Milledgeville-Baldwin County body works with just $27,000. Jones said using the city’s $8,000 for marketing instead of rent payment could be helpful if the body did decide to move.
“Wherever it comes from, we’ve got to have more advertising money,” Jones said.
Board member Chat Daniel weighed in against the Elks location.
“For us to move away from the Chamber just to go some place else, I don’t think is in our best interest,” Daniel said.
He hopes the city wouldn’t choose to amend the Authority’s budget for not moving.
“I don’t think they are going to do that right now,” Daniel said. “I’d be extremely disappointed if we had leadership in the city and county that didn’t recognize the importance of what we do especially in what’s going on in today’s world. To think we might be punished in some way because we didn’t do what somebody thought we should do, I’d be very disappointed to be honest.”
County Commissioner Henry Craig, District 4, said it’s an obvious advantage to have the Chamber and the Development Authority collocated.
“There is more intangible benefit than one would realize,” Craig said.
Moving into a city building concerned the board chair.
“We are a very independent city-county authority, but at the same time equally dependent on the city and county for our funding. That’s all we’ve got, and we can’t afford to offend either one of them,” Jones said.
The board will draft a letter to City Manager Barry Jarrett informing him of the Tuesday decision.
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